A day with the U.S. Marine Drum & Bugle Corps

by Jim Claytor, DCW staff

This article was originally published in the April 2009 issue of Drum Corps World (Volume 38, Number 1).

It’s a warm and sunny day in late February, about 80 to 85 degrees, and my assignment was to review the “Battle Color Ceremony” of the United States Marines Drum and Bugle Corps at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA. Yeah I know what you all are thinking, but wait! Don’t even go there. We all know the Marines traditionally play Semper Fidelis at shows throughout the U.S. all year, that’s their tradition. But have you heard them lately?

Well, contrary to popular belief, this drum corps ROCKS! I had the opportunity to witness, up-close and personal, the scarlet and white-uniformed, 85-member Marine drum corps and let me tell you, this is not what you’re are typically used to hearing. Traditionally, yes. Musically no. Celebrating 75 years as “The Commandants Own,” Chief Warrant Officer 4 Brian Dix has composed and arranged music for this year’s corps that will easily rival many top civilian corps.

The Marines’ first show of the year was February 24 — after spending the last month learning their new 2009 show in Yuma, AZ — and continuing through the month of October, they have a drill written by Marines who previously marched with the Blue Devils and Crossmen. This show of 23 to 24 minutes will be performed a minimum of 55 times this year, as well as performances at 100 ceremonies for all branches of the military, 150 concerts and 200-plus honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

Musically, Chief Warrant Officer Dix personally spends about 10 man hours composing, arranging and acquiring the rights to music most of us would not expect to hear from the Marines. This year’s selections begins with an original rendition of Another Open’n’, Another Show from Cole Porter’s Broadway hit classic “Kiss Me Kate” and a fantastic trumpet solo by Gunnery Sergeant Michael Fullwood. This is followed by a great drum solo of Euday L. Bowman’s 12th Street Rag. Closing out the first half of the show is an innovative original composition by Chief Warrant Officer Dix combining God Save the Queen and America, honoring the legacy of maritime heritage and the brave men and women who have served this nation, titled Birth of a Drum Corps.

After a short intermission, this extremely well-choreographed show continues with a selection written for the 1988 Olympic games by composer John Williams titled Olympic Spirit.

Continuing on was something I totally did not expect to hear and was quite frankly amazed that they were playing it, I’m Gonna Live ’til I Die by none other than ex-rapper turned singer Queen Latifa, who I found out has something in common with Warrant Officer Dix; they are both Newark, NJ, kids.

Closing their 2009 show is a song that is very meaningful to me and, initially debuted in the year 1896 by one of our most famous composers of all time, John Phillip Sousa — Stars and Stripes Forever.

During my interview with Warrant Officer Dix, something I think that most of us civilians didn’t realize came up, that 30% of the Marines Drum and Bugle Corps are derived from DCI and DCA drum corps veterans, with an age-out of 62 years old (no that’s not a typo). Along with that, there are several members who never marched in a public school band, let alone a drum corps, but instead were home-schooled and learned how to play an instrument through their local community band.

After the great performance by the drum corps, the United States Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon marched on to the field like a brand-new Rolls Royce — smooth, sleek and exquisitely crafted.

Twenty-four perfectly-spaced men stood at the goal line in their traditional blue uniforms, as if someone has taken a tape measure and instantly squared each platoon member with the ability to look any direction and see a perfectly straight line. Razor-sharp precision, 10-pound, hand-polished M-1 Garand rifles and fixed bayonets. This highly-disciplined rifle platoon performs hundreds of maneuvers that exemplify the discipline known as the U.S. Marines, according to Gunnery Sergeant and Placement Director Roger Wright.

Since 1948, the Silent Drill Platoon has performed in what’s called “sunset parades” at Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C., where they demonstrate a series of difficult rifle spins and tosses, all while executing a beautifully-calculated drill. Now granted, I was in a drum corps rifle line (Argonne Rebels), but imagine five junior corps rifles combined into one, with a bayonet on the end. That’s what it was like when PFC Martin Garton demonstrated for me a couple of their maneuvers that I thought were simple, until I had to pick up one of their rifles (ok, so I’m a little weak in the arms).

The Marines of the Silent Drill Platoon, once selected, are required to serve a two-year ceremonial tour and train in the field as infantrymen at the Marine Corps Combat Development Command in Quantico, VA. Once selected, they are required to undergo extremely intense training in Washington, D.C. If they survive the difficult training, they will later be moved to the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, AZ, to complete their training.

This is the 75th Anniversary of the United States Marine Drum and Bugle Corps. Chief Warrant Officer Brian Dix has put together a fantastic show that you have got to see to believe. I personally salute this years’ corps and congratulate them on their 75 years and look forward to 75 more. Also I would like to acknowledge those Marines in the drum corps who will be heading out to Iraq in a couple months. Godspeed. And thanks for allowing me to spend the day with all of you!

The U.S. Marine Drum & Bugle Corps, as has become tradition, will be performing during the opening of the 2009 Drum Corps International Championships on Saturday, August 8, in Indianapolis.

Check out their web site at: http://www.drumcorps.mbw.usmc.mil/.